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Costa Concordia cruise liner's company blames captain for disaster - The Guardian

Written By Ivan Kolev on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | 3:46 AM

Costa Concordia cruise liner’s company blames captain for disaster

The Costa Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, made an 'unauthorised manoeuvre', according to the liner's parent company. Photograph: Screengrab

The company operating the Costa Concordia cruise liner, which ran aground off Tuscany has blamed the captain for the disaster as Italy's environment minister declared a state of emergency and insurance analysts warned the wreck could be the biggest insured loss in maritime history.

Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and chief executive of Costa Cruises, said Captain Francesco Schettino had made an "unapproved, unauthorised manoeuvre" before the disaster, deviating from his route to make a "salute" to the island of Giglio.

But Foschi defended the way the crew had handled the evacuation, and cast doubt on claims that Schettino had abandoned his ship before it was complete.

Rescue workers have found a sixth body, a male passenger. According to a tally that has changed repeatedly over the past three days, another 16 people remain missing. Amid deteriorating weather off the island, the search for survivors was suspended for several hours after the 114,500-tonne liner shifted a few centimetres, raising fears it might break up.

The environment minister, Corrado Clini, said that the ship had run aground in what was a maritime nature reserve, and was leaking liquid although it was not clear if this was fuel oil. Clini said he would declare a state of emergency which would release state funds to help prevent an environmental disaster.

At an emotional press conference in Genoa, Foschi fought back tears as he apologised for the accident. "We need to acknowledge the facts, and we cannot deny human error," he said. Speaking in English, Foschi said the captain "wanted to show the ship and to nearby [sic] this island of Giglio, and so he decided to change the course of the ship to go closer to the island and pass through in front of the little city that sits in that island".

The rocks on which the vessel is thought to have torn open its hull are less than a kilometre from the port of Giglio, the island's main town. Foschi's version of events followed a report in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera that Schettino altered his route for two reasons. One, it said, was to pay tribute to a retired Costa Cruises' skipper who lived on the island. The other, said the paper, was to give a unique view of Giglio to the vessel's chief steward, a native of the island.

Schettino is under investigation for suspected manslaughter. He has said the liner hit rocks that were not marked on charts and were not picked up by his vessel's navigation systems. He also said that he was 300 metres offshore when the accident took place, but his boss told the press conference he understood the true figure was 150m. Schettino has been accused by the prosecutors conducting the inquiry of abandoning his ship before the last of the passengers had been removed. Coastguard officials have said he refused to go back on board after disembarking.

But Foschi said: "We are unable to ascertain whether he left the ship before the conclusion of the evacuation. Some internal testimony indicates that he really tried to stay on board."

Numerous passengers have complained about the crew's performance during the evacuation, and there have been accounts of some being unable to free lifeboats, and of bar staff who proved more able than sailors.

But Foschi said: "The crew [from] what we have seen and understood from our initial internal investigation behaved rightly ... obviously in consideration [of] the very serious incident [that] happened and the ship's condition at the time the evacuation started. More than 4,200 people have been evacuated, and we are very grateful to our crew in terms of skill, behaviour and way they conducted themselves." He added: "We know that our crew reacted adequately."

Costa Cruises' boss said that none of the vessel's fuel tanks had so far ruptured. But, he admitted, "we are very, very concerned about what may happen in the future".

Shares in Carnival, the owner of the ship, were down by more than 20% at one point on the London Stock Exchange. Carnival, which also owns the P&O and Cunard brands, has said it stands to lose $90m in 2012 from not being able to operate the Costa Concordia.

One analyst said injury and other claims could push the total cost to insurers as high as $1bn, the biggest marine loss ever absorbed by the industry.

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